Today, Spencer and Michael are discussing Gotham Academy 5, originally released February 25th, 2015.
Spencer: It’s not easy figuring out how and when to reveal key plot points and answer pressing questions when constructing a narrative. Some stories get so caught up hyping big mysteries that the solutions can’t live up to the audience’s expectations — others lose their inertia by revealing all too early. Thus far, I’ve been quite impressed by how Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher have handled their mysteries in Gotham Academy. Issue 5 is full of big reveals, balanced expertly by Cloonan and Fletcher, which fill in many of the blanks about Olive’s lost summer and Tristan’s identity. This new information expands the world of Gotham Academy and helps flesh out the cast, both individually and as a unit, while avoiding the pitfalls I listed at the outset of this article. Plus, it’s loads of fun.
Last we’d left Olive, she’d discovered that Killer Croc had been living in the walls of the girls dorm — and that he knows her mother! Before she can question him further, though, Maps scares him off, and he flees beneath the North Hall, blocking off the tunnel behind him. It will take good friends and a daring heist to follow him, so that’s exactly what Olive and Maps do; after recruiting Pomeline and Colton, they use the school dance as a cover — and ditch poor Kyle in the process — set off a few explosives, and break into North Hall! Just as Croc starts to warm up to them, though, Batman arrives!
That’s a lot to process, but before we dig into these events further, I want to discuss the issue’s big reveals. The first comes when Olive, armed with a crossbow she liberated from Headmaster Hammer’s office, shoots down a creature she thinks to be Batman but who, in actuality, is the mysterious boy she keeps running into around campus, Tristan. Turns out Tristan’s infected with Langstrom’s Man-Bat virus and is staying at Gotham Academy while they search for a cure. The scene is rather sudden and a bit jarring — Tristan literally flies into the book, talks to Olive, then vanishes when his tale is over — but it’s clear that, while Tristan’s condition will be important moving forward, what’s more important is the story he tells about Olive.
Long story short, it turns out that during the summer, Olive went into some kind of trance, somehow burst into flame, and burned down the North Hall — just like the incident in the library at the end of issue 2. While that raises further questions about Olive (what is she?!), it still resolves much of the mystery surrounding her, the mystery that’s been driving Gotham Academy since its beginning. Cloonan and Fletcher never miss a beat, though; instead of sapping the title of energy, these reveals actually gives it a bit of a new spark, largely by helping Olive grow as a character.
Olive’s always been tentative and shy, so it’s great to see how finding answers helps give her confidence and resolve. That same confidence seems to carry over to the rest of her crew (she boosts stats for the whole party!), all four of whom get along like never before and start acting like real friends for the first time; Olive and Colton resolve their differences, and Olive even feels comfortable discussing her mother around her frenemy Pomeline, who is having too much fun to even care about torturing Olive.
An institution like Gotham Academy will always have secrets to discover (as will the book named after it), but it’s entirely possible that these reveals may lead to a direction that’s based less on mysterious pasts and more on these kids adventuring together. If so, I’d be perfectly happy with it, as this group of characters already has a lot of potential. There are two things about their group that really leap out and strike me, the first being their moral alignment.
As much as I like them, these kids don’t exactly follow the rules. Colton sells powerful explosives; Pomeline is some kind of wannabe Necromancer; Olive is the daughter of an Arkham inmate, capable of starting fires with her mind, who got so pissed when she thought she saw Batman that she shot him with a crossbow; all of them are more than happy to strike up a friendship with Killer Croc. Of course, in the New 52, Croc is far from the worst of Batman’s rogues, and likewise, these aren’t bad kids, but it should be interesting to see what effects their looser moralities has on the story, especially with Batman entering the fray.
The other thing that struck me about this group is the way they interact with the world around them.
Maps always sees life as a game of D&D, but her worldview seems to have rubbed off on the rest of her friends, as their mission is straight out of Maps’ favorite game. But just look at Hammer’s office — runes?! Deathtraps?! There’s something alive in that chest! Reality is getting just as strange as the fictional ghosts Olive and Pomeline once chased, but I have to wonder if that’s the point. When we discussed last month’s issue, Patrick claimed that “ghost stories with kids in them are always better if the ghosts aren’t real. Kids don’t need to believe in ghosts, they need to understand the physical world around them.” Together, these four kids help each other better understand the physical world around them, even if their reality is often just as strange as, if not stranger than, their ghost stories. But reality is always stranger than we give it credit for, so all that matters is that the kids understand their reality, strange as it may be, instead of believing in stories that are purposely mysterious and unknowable. It’s a lesson that’s not only surprisingly applicable, but should serve as a solid core theme for Gotham Academy moving forward.
Michael, what’s your take? Did these reveals work as well for you as they did for me? Are you digging the interactions between these kids? Does their version of reality makes sense to you? Also, I woefully ran out of space to address the art of Karl Kerschl, Msassyk and Serge LaPoint — any thoughts?
Michael: Spencer I 100% agree with what you said at the top of your lead: stories getting caught up hyping mysteries and sacrificing any quality story *cough* Batman Eternal *cough*. The comic book industry — especially the big two — has become a hype machine. Everything is leading up to the next big mystery, the next big event. So it’s always nice to see a book move at its own pace and reveal secrets at its leisure. To completely contradict that however, I found myself being a little impatient as I played catch-up with Gotham Academy before reading Gotham Academy 5. I have been so very conditioned by popular fiction that I was expecting major answers and plot revelations almost instantly. Fletcher and Cloonan have allowed the story to breathe a bit, and for us to get to know the characters first. It’s similarly impressive they waited five issues before giving Batman a cameo appearance. While Batman’s presence has been felt (this is a Gotham book after all) there hasn’t been an over-reliance on him or a lot of his major characters. My conditioning also led me to speculate when our group of misfits would reveal themselves to have ties to more major players in the Gotham sphere — a la Penguin, Two-Face etc. Instead, we have original characters and ideas forming side-by-side with those Batman characters that we have known and loved for so very long.
The reveals of Tristan-as-Manbat and Olive-as-fire starter were pretty satisfying for me. We got a little bit of insight into what happened to Olive during the infamous “last summer” without giving it all away. Having Tristan slowly come to the forefront of the story to reveal this to Olive felt more natural than the deus ex machina it could have been. My only complaint is that the Tristan/Olive relationship seems to be veering into Twilight territory, though this is most likely a self-aware move. I’d speculate that Tristan and Olive will be getting a little comfortable with one another as this series goes on, because Kyle is a “lawful good,” and kind of boring. Olive’s passionate disdain for Batman — enough to shoot him with an arrow — is very compelling, and it will be interesting to see the particulars of that unfold as Gotham Academy goes on. It’s also great to see our little band of misfits finally team up for a caper. While Maps is always a delight, I’m growing fond of “arms dealer” Colton.
Karl Kerschl continues to have the perfect style for Gotham Academy. The kids of this book wear their hearts on their sleeves, and Kerschl’s near-anime-ish renderings of them fit perfectly. Kerschl takes the mystery of the Academy and runs with it, trailing the panels down as Olive and Maps find their way through one of the many secret passageways. One thing I noticed in Gotham Academy 4 was that Kerschl seemed to model his Killer Croc after the original model of Batman: The Animated Series. What’s even better is that Cloonan and Fletcher throw in one of Croc’s sillier moments from the series — a little detail that made the experience of this book even better.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s great that we are seeing the kids all band together to go on an adventure. Spencer mentioned that Patrick said “ghost stories with kids in them are always better if the ghosts aren’t real.” So far everything that has seemed mystical in nature has been explained by science and Batman lore. With Olive’s fire starting powers however, I wouldn’t be surprised if we find ourselves veering towards that mystical realm of Gotham after all.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?